Oct. 11, 2005 The coaches' strike on St. Thomas may be over soon, according to Arthur Solomon, chairman of the physical education department at Charlotte Amalie High School. A coaches' meeting scheduled for next week will determine whether the protest will continue, he said.
Solomon added he believes "something is just around the corner" that will help address the concerns of many of those participating in the strike. While Solomon also said he does not yet know what this action may be, he hopes it will take care of issues ranging from better pay for coaches to increasing the number of staff in school P.E. departments.
Solomon explained the strike, now in its fourth week on St. Thomas, began primarily because high school and junior high school coaches around the territory have not received pay raises in the last 15 years. Solomon said coaches hope to talk to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull and Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards about the problem, but a meeting with them has not been arranged yet.
However, Solomon said a collective bargaining contract recently ratified between the territory's chapter of the American Federation of Teachers and the local government may provide some sort of solution. In the contract, coaches received a 20 percent raise, or about $300 per sport, per season. "We do think it should be more," Solomon said. "But it is a step toward progress."
While Solomon also said this contract is the AFT's solution to increase benefits to all its members, Sidney Bell, a coach at Joseph Sibilly School, added there is another side of the coin. "We were looking for an increase just for the coaches," said Bell, who is also the second vice-president for the AFT. "The union increased pay across the board, which is great, but since the coaches are just a select few, we were not able to negotiate a raise for us alone."
Solomon said the coaches will discuss this increase at the meeting next week. If the group decides the raise is sufficient, the strike will end.
"But if the majority of us don't feel like the $300 which is equal to an increase of about $20 a year for the last 15 years is enough, the strike could continue," said Pedrito Estrill, coach of the boy's varsity basketball at CAHS. "I don't know if that means a couple of months, or even up to a year."
Estrill said he does not know what will happen at the meeting, but he did reveal there are other issues besides pay which may sway the coaches' decision. In particular, Estrill said school P.E. departments need their own budgets to take care of things like equipment, repairs to athletic facilities and travel expenses when players need to go off island to participate in sports events.
"The coaches themselves have had to fundraise for things like that," Estrill said. "We give up our lunch hours to raise money, and sometimes we've even had to put expenses on our own credit cards like when we need to pay for hotel rooms for our players when they're off at competitions."
An "inadequate" athletic facility is another chronic problem at CAHS, according to Estrill, who said the school's gym hasn't been renovated since it was built in the 1970s. In addition to not having proper ventilation, Estrill said the roof leaks, causing the gym floor to flood when it rains. "It's a shame to have to play in there," Estrill said. "And I'm really surprised the parents haven't helped us out by complaining about it."
As a solution, Solomon said he is working on a physical education department budget which he hopes to present to senators in the next month. The package, which would provide for all public school P.E. departments for the 2006-2007 school year, is "something which will make everyone happy," Solomon said.
The budget would also address one of Solomon's own concerns an increase in the number of athletic directors and coordinators at public high schools and junior high schools. While these are not positions that presently exist in the school system, Solomon said he believes they are necessary to keep these departments running efficiently. In addition, it would balance the responsibility of the department equally among a group of people. Solomon, for example, presently serves as both CAHS's athletic chairperson and P.E. director a situation which he says is "not right."
Solomon added more staff would solve another problem for coaches within the education system. "Right now, there's no one for us to talk to within the hierarchy of education whenever we have concerns," Solomon said. "These directors or athletic coordinators could listen to the coaches, help us take action when we have problems."
Solomon said the coaches' meeting should take place next weekend, when the weather improves. "I really do expect something will happen for us soon," he said. "The support from the community has been overwhelming. We've received a lot of support, and I think we're making some steps forward."
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